Almost every day, we encounter tasks that aren’t particularly interesting or enjoyable, but that we have to do anyway. Sometimes we merely go through the motions and take an experience for granted when we could be getting much more out of it. Or we avoid an activity because we think we’re not interested or would dislike it, when in fact we are missing out on ways it could enrich our lives.
Research suggests that approaching these situations and others with curiosity can not only make them more enriching but help us experience more happiness in life. This one very simple curiosity-building exercise can help foster interest and enjoyment in any of these situations.
How to Do It
Choose an activity that you think you are not interested in or even dislike, such as a daily task or chore. Alternatively, you could try something out of the ordinary for you, like listening to a genre of music that’s not your favorite, eating a food you disliked as a child, watching a sport you think is boring, or learning a hobby you’ve never before found intriguing.
Try to let go of any expectations, positive or negative, that you have about the experience. Simply keep an open, curious mind.
While engaged in the activity, take note of at least three new things about it that you have never noticed before.
You may find your preconceived ideas changing, opening up new possibilities for interest and enjoyment in your life. Even if not, you will have added a few new and interesting things to your catalog of experience.
Langer, E. J. (2007). On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself through Mindful Creativity. New York: Ballantine Books.
In several different experiments—involving tasks as diverse as crocheting, watching football, eating different types of chocolate, and listening to non-preferred types of music—participants who were asked to notice new things about the experience reported liking it more afterwards (and sometimes even said they were more likely to do it again) compared with others who weren’t asked to notice new things.
Sometimes routines or preconceived notions cause us to lose interest in an activity or experience, often before we’ve ever really given it a chance. By forcing ourselves to pay closer attention to it, we may cease to take its strengths for granted and start to appreciate its value. In her book On Become an Artist, psychologist Ellen Langer writes that, as she ran studies using this exercise, she found that “it became clear that taking notice of things expands our appreciation of them.
In addition to the research by Langer and colleagues cited in her book On Becoming an Artist, this exercise draws on suggestions from researcher Todd Kashdan, author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life.